I don't have any flaws. None that you can see at least. It's nothing personal - it's not that you're bad at noticing other people's flaws - I just don't allow any of them out. You see, I am perfect. Well, at least, that's the ideal that I hold myself to, and the story that I must maintain in the face of the rest of the world.
This post is about perfectionism, mirroring Bay's post about worry. They're kind of the same demon.
Perfectionism is an insidious disease. It strangles A-type personalities with a drive to work themselves excessively (having them generate tons of movement, most of it on the hedonistic treadmill) and it saddles B-type personalities on the sidelines, paralyzed, unable to take action, because no matter what action they take it'll be the wrong one.
I learned to be perfect around middle school. My family moved, and that meant switching schools. In eighth grade, without any friends, and seeing that any kind of individualistic behaviour was dangerous, I learned to hide my flaws and fit in perfectly.
By fit in, I don't mean I was popular - I meant that I was never caught out in the open, vulnerable and exposed. I was the perfect chameleon. I learned only to show people what I was certain would be safe, and to use humour to deflect anything that might be dangerous.
This worked pretty well as a kid, but as an adult, it sucks. From the context of perfection, it's never safe to fully be myself. Doing so might mean sharing with people when I'm scared, or when I really need their support, even/especially when I suspect they won't be willing to give it. It means being vulnerable (danger!).
Here's what I've learned about perfectionism:
- Perfectionism stops you from failing.
"Sounds good so far", you think to yourself, "why would I ever want to fail?" In fact, nothing succeeds like failure. It took the creators of Angry Birds 51 failures, before they achieved their "overnight success".
Every time they released a game and failed, it provided them new information - new data to go on. Every time they released something new and failed, it took away the significance of getting it right or wrong. Their job was simply to produce games, because that's what they loved doing.
51 failures! Perfectionism won't even allow you to make a single failure. Perfectionism is not saving you from failure. It's saving you from success.
- Perfectionism ensures that people will like me.
As long as I make sure that the new person I'm talking with thinks that I am likeable, a good conversationalist, don't have food in my teeth, and am well-dressed and polished, the conversation will go swimmingly, and we'll establish a great connection.
The trouble is, when I'm so focused on doing things perfectly, I lose all ability to simply be in the moment. How could I ever simply enjoy an interaction with someone new, when I was consumed with the way things turned out? You know what? Some people won't like us, no matter how hard I try.
Perfectionism might ensure people like you, superficially, but the cost is connection and presence.
- Perfectionism ensures that I can control the outcome.
As long as I get it right, things will turn out the way I want. As long as I do everything perfectly, I'll be a success/liked by my peers/make a lot of money. Does that sound familiar?
The jokes on us. Things don't go always go the way we want them to. It's almost like the world actively conspires against us. I may do a hundred complimentary sessions and have no one choose to hire me, and then next week do three and get hired after each of them.
Perfectionism is an attachment to a specific result. But that isn't the way life works. We don't get to choose anything other than how we are being, and what we do from that place. Giving in to perfectionism ultimately leads to a lack of action ("if I fail, it's really significant!"), or in my case, an unhealthy pre-occupation with making sure everything goes perfectly ("Getting to inbox zero is way more important than 8 hours of sleep. Oh and look, I might not be able to sleep while I do that, but I can definitely drink this beer/six beers!").
Yikes, this is hitting a little too close to home.
Trying to achieve perfection is wasting your life. Life is beautiful because it isn't perfect. The japanese figured this out early on when they described the concept of wabi-sabi:
If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi.
Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.
So on that note,
How are you putting your life on hold by either waiting for, or trying to achieve perfection? What would life be like if you accepted that making mistakes was a necessary part of it? What would you choose to do if everyone (including yourself) insisted that you make mistakes?
For me, trying to get it perfect means I'm putting on hold simply being with the world as it is. It stops me from simply reaching out to people and saying "Hi, I like you. Want to do something together?". The funny thing? I've been perfect all along - in every mistake I've made, life has unfolded as it has, and it's always brought me to what is next.
The world is imperfect. Come and join it.